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Early Fall Colors

Everyone longs to see the wonderfully vibrant colors of autumn appear and turn an otherwise unremarkable landscape into something really special. While we are enjoying them, there are a few things to consider to help evaluate the health of our trees.

Almost always, when these colors appear earlier than other trees of the same species, it means trouble. It can mean that the root system has root rot, girdling roots or other issues. The trunk can have cankers, girdling wire, borers, sapsucker or animal damage, or anything that restricts sap flow up or down the trunk. It can mean that health has deteriorated badly, drought stress is catching up with it, or that physical trauma to roots or trunk is significant.

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Thelma and Louise, the Road to Greece and the Titanic - Part 1

Economics, Fiscal Cliff, Thelma and Louise

I bet you’re scratching your head and wondering if I’ve gone plum crazy. 

Maybe loco?

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Public hearing set for Mayfair Collection financing plan

Wauwatosa, Retail

The first public hearing for a city proposal to help finance The Mayfair Collection shopping center has been scheduled for Nov. 1, before the Wauwatosa Community Development Authority.

That's according to a new timeline from Paulette Enders, city economic development director. Under that timeline, the Common Council's Budget and Finance Committee will review the proposal on Nov. 13, with the full council to consider it on Nov. 20.

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"What Do I Do With All These Potted Mums?" Your fall gardening questions, answered

Fall gardening, composting, vermicomposting, soil preparation, pruning, mums, heeling in, growing indoors, vegetable gardening, strawberries, bulbs, hydrangeas

For this week's blog post, I turned to my friends to ask if they had any fall gardening questions. They did not disappoint! Here are several of their questions, along with my responses.

Q: Our garden has finished producing for the summer. When is the right time of year to remove the plants from the garden (raised bed)? Now or in the spring? Or does it really matter? We have green beans, limas, cucs, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, zucchini & yellow squash vines.
A: You could remove plants now if they are no longer bearing fruit. For any plants still bearing fruit (e.g. tomatoes), you could wait until just before the cold sets in and after there's no more hope of Indian Summer -- for me, this is usually the first week of November. Regardless of when you remove dead plants, make sure you do compost them before winter sets in – otherwise, they might provide a place for pests to overwinter. Along with this, if any of your plants are diseased, get rid of them now. For example, this year ALL of my squash plants were infested with squash bugs. These "true bugs" (Hemiptera) sucked the life out of my zucchinis and pumpkins until they were ghostly white and withered. I pulled every bit of those dying plants out, along with the many bugs that were still suckling on them, bagged them, and sent them to the city. Depending on the disease or pest, you probably don't want to compost sick plants in your own yard, lest those diseases come back the following year. 
I make an exception for perennials and annuals that have seeds for birds, or that have winter appeal (e.g. ornamental grasses). As long as they're not diseased, you can safely compost them in the spring.
Q: How do you prepare a bed for the best spring and summer soil?
A: Clear away all dead plant matter and add a thick layer of compost (three to six inches) to the top of your beds now, gently turning it into the top layer of soil. Then let it rest and continue to break down over the winter. This is perhaps the best option for preparing your gardens for the spring. If you don't have any available compost yet, you can wait until the early spring. At that time, the process is just about the same -- spread a thick layer of compost across the top of your garden, gently tilling it in (avoid overly disturbing your soil, as this can lead to soil compaction as soil settles from being tilled). You could also plant a "green manure" (AKA a "cover crop"), which is a type of crop you sow and let grow until the freeze, then till into the soil in the early spring. Depending on which types of seeds you plant (options include various legumes, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, and so on) the plants will fix nitrogen in the soil and/or provide organic matter when you till it in later on. 
Q: Is it too late to move my hydrangea?
A: Hydrangeas are deciduous (woody) shrubs. While this forum says to transplant them in October, another source says to transplant them after their leaves have fallen and they've gone fully dormant, in November or so. I would imagine that the best times to transplant hydrangeas would be very late fall (when the ground is still soft) or very early spring. I transplanted three hydrangeas last spring and they survived, even through the drought – but I had to water them a lot. Whatever you do, just make sure you keep your hydrangea hydrated. 
Q: I just bought a few hardy mums in plastic pots for fall decor. Can I keep them in the pots over the winter, perhaps on my porch or near the foundation of the house where it's warmer, and then plant them in the spring?
A: My understanding is that many mums are on the tender side and may not survive a harsher winter -- especially with their roots above ground. If you don't want to plant them now (you can do so up until the ground freezes), find a warm location on your property (for example on the south side, if there's sun exposure) and "heel in" the pots. Submerging the roots in their pots insulates them and gives them a better chance of making it through the winter. I take the potted perennials I didn't get around to planting and heel them in to one of my raised beds. This worked very well for the sedums, mums, and other perennial divisions I wanted to save over the winter of 2011-12. I successfully transplanted them all last spring. Here's a photo of this year's leftover perennials, which I just dug into one of my raised beds:
Q: I use vermicompost, but what application technique do you recommend? Can it be used to fertilize my mature pear tree? Also, should I reapply throughout the summer?
A: Vermicompost can be used to fertilize trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and even grass, and a little goes a long way. You can fertilize any time of year without harm, though it's best to use vermicompost when your plants aren't dormant, in spring and summer. You can simply sprinkle some vermicompost around the base of a plant, OR (and this is my preferred method) you could make compost tea. Mix a scoop of vermicompost (1/2 to 1 cup) with a gallon of distilled water and use the solution to water around the plant. If you want to go a step further, you could use an aquatic air pump and a little molasses and make your own super-charged compost tea a la this method. This encourages increased growth of the beneficial microorganisms in the compost and makes for healthier, happier plants. 
Q: I just had my first garden this year. What do I do now? Some tomatoes and strawberry plants are still alive.
A: You can leave your strawberry plants in place and mulch them in late fall for added winter insulation. Some people will mow them down after immediately they've borne fruit (this is called renovating), though you should not cut them in the fall, as you may remove blossom buds for next year's crop. As for your tomatoes, if they're still growing (the "indeterminate" varieties will grow on and on until it's too cold for them) leave them as long as you can -- again, I usually leave mine until Indian summer is over. At that time, I pick every single remaining fruit -- even the tiny, slightly withered green ones -- and put them a paper bag. This helps ripen the tomatoes. Then I will use them to make chili or creamy tomato soup. 
Q: What about fall pruning? 
A: Generally speaking, it's best to prune shrubs and trees when a plant is dormant. Right now most plants are in the process of going dormant, but are perhaps not there yet. Since pruning stimulates new growth and can attract pests, pruning them just before a freeze might endanger the tree or shrub. So it's best to wait until late winter to prune, when your plants are dormant. According to the UW-Extension Master Gardener Manual, "the best time to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs is during late winter, before plants begin to leaf out in spring. Pruning cuts heal most quickly in spring, and diseases and insects that spread diseases are dormant during winter." 
Q: Bulbs! Which ones to plant now, which ones should come out into storage. Also: how do you best to transplant bulbs across zones?
A: The only bulbs I grow – mainly tulips, daffodils, and alliums – were planted by a previous owner of my home. I simply let them bloom in the spring, cut them down when they're finished and leave them for next year. That's the beauty of hardy bulbs – they're pretty low maintenance. Now if you're talking about tender bulbs – dahlias and canna lilies come to mind – you do have to over-winter them indoors. My mother-in-law does this with her beautiful and extensive dahlia collection. Here's a helpful article from the University of Minnesota Extension that breaks down the steps involved in storing tender bulbs, from gently digging them up to curing and storing them. 
As for planting bulbs, I consulted with my UW-Extension materials and the best time to plant tender bulbs is in the spring, after the last frost; hardy bulbs should be planted in Wisconsin in mid-October, slightly later for the hardiest of bulbs (e.g. tulips). You can transplant bulbs any time they are dormant (when the leaves have died back). How deep should you plant them? "Hardy bulbs should be planted at a depth 2 1/2 times their circumference." 
Q: What can you tell me about gardening year round? 
A: It is possible to grow year-round, though depending on where you live this can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor. Here in the Milwaukee area, you need a heated greenhouse to grow in the winter. My own property is much too small for this. I have grown herbs, spinach and lettuce with some success under grow lights inside my home (see this post to learn how to make your own grow light area without spending a fortune). I also have several potted dwarf fruit trees -- pomegranate, fig, orange, banana, coffee. I put them outside in summer and bring them in around October 1. None of them have borne enough fruit to be worth mentioning, though the tiny, super-tart oranges I got a couple years ago were great in mixed drinks! 
Growing indoors is hard because plants will never get the amount of light inside our homes that they really need. I remember in my Master Gardener training our teacher told us that even the sunniest window is darker than a densely shaded forest. This causes most indoor plants to go dormant, meaning they won't produce much at all. The other problem that comes with raising plants indoors is fungus gnats. These tiny creatures are the bane of any indoor gardener's existence and are very hard to control without chemicals. Having said all that, I still think it can be a fun and rewarding challenge to grow herbs, lettuce, and spinach indoors, and I always start my garden plants indoors in the winter and grow them under lights in my basement, as well as in a mini-greenhouse in my kitchen. 
One of the best things to grow outdoors *almost* year round is spinach. It's very cold-hardy and I've found it growing well into the late fall and then again in very early spring. Give it a try!
Do you have a question about gardening? E-mail me at heatherzydek(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll try to find an answer for you! 
Until then, I'll close with this photo of my favorite plant this fall:

Why can't the chicken cross the road on a bike?

Oak Leaf Trail, Complete Streets, Wauwatosa, LaCrosse, Mayfair Road, Bluemound Road

In the past, it was just, ‘We're going to rebuild this road.' Now we're trying to pull in the ideas of, while we're doing this, can we lessen the stormwater impact? Can we improve bicycle, pedestrian, physically disabled accommodations? LaCrosse city planner Larry Kirsch

If the road we are talking about is Mayfair Road, and especially its juncture with Bluemound, the chicken can't cross the road because the chicken is too smart to take his life into his hands.

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, Colin Hat, Down Under, Perfectly Good Guitar

Wow!  October already.

Start your weekend with Colin Hay - and Down Under...

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Thelma and Louise, the Road to Greece and the Titanic - Part 2

Congressman Ryan, Economics, Greece

My pal Paul Ryan is fond of explaining our country’s economic prospects as nothing more than another road to Greece.

And I’m going to call him out on that.

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Things to Think About Now

The growing season is winding down and another summer has passed. Our trees and landscape plants are going dormant – dormant but very much alive. Fall is the time to think about protecting your plants for the winter and preparing for next year.

·         Protect young trees and shrubs from deer feeding and antler rubbing. Install wire mesh fencing supported by stakes to create a physical barrier. The fence needs to be 4’ tall at a minimum.

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Thelma and Louise, the Road to Greece and the Titanic - Part 3

The Titanic Effect

I might possibly be the only person on the planet to have never watched the 1997 movie that featured Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

You know Gas you are a real philistine.  A cultural low-life.  Everyone should watch that movie.  It should be required watching in school!

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Tosa's Finest Indoor Concert Hall

Places in the Community, Music

There are a million different outdoor concerts one can find in, well, warm Wisconsin weather. As our temps drop, we head indoors for our entertainment. Milwaukee of course has some great indoor concert halls. But what about Wauwatosa?

Have you heard about Schwan Hall in Tosa, a part of Wisconsin Lutheran College? It is still a relatively-new facility and extremely nice performance experience - for artists and audiences alike. Besides hosting school performances and other community groups, they have their own artist series. They bring in some excellent entertainment options!

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, Ruthie Foster, Welcome Home, Perfectly Good Guitar

Start your weekend with some awesome Ruthie Foster.

Welcome Home...

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How not to succeed in business (or governance, love, or just about anything)

Pragmatism, Serb Hall, Unions, fish fries, Milwaukee

Last night I had the pleasure of being kicked out of a bar for the first time. I guess at 62, it’s about time. But then, I’ve never much enjoyed bars or confrontation. It’s no surprise it took this long.

The bar in question was Serb Hall’s, one of the biggest bars around. I’d gone to meet a friend for a fish fry. If you’re not a local reader, fish fries are a pragmatic Milwaukee sacrament started during Prohibition, when all the bars needed to find new ways to make money. The tradition is honored to this day, only with large quantities of beer and other adult beverages.

(Serb Hall is another Milwaukee institution, the site of weddings and union gatherings, presidential visits, and more. A vast building, it also holds a bowling alley and promises “extraordinary hospitality.”)

I didn’t know at the time that this wasn’t any random gathering. Most of the others in the group of ten, people I didn’t know, were union supporters and activists, and they were there to show support for the handful of union staff left in the organization. The idea was to go, ask to be seated at the server’s tables, enjoy dinner, and leave a generous tip. You can read the backstory here.

But it was not to be. The host announced that we couldn’t be seated, as the waitress already had a table of 15 (people I later learned were doing the same thing we were, supporting union employees). That made sense to me, although my daughter, a waitress, informs me that she’d be delighted to be given two big parties. We were offered other waitstaff’s tables in the largely empty room but declined.

At which point the bartender, also a union employee, came up with a quick-minded pragmatic solution. “If you eat at the bar, I can write your tickets. You’d have to do the buffet: I can’t serve tables while bartending.” So we all said yes--good idea, paid our money, and started heading toward the buffet.

One or two of us actually made it. The food looked lackluster and smelled worse, but that seemed beside the point.

The rest of us were stopped before we made it to the dining room. The manager, sitting bulldoggedly at the bar between us and the buffet line, started yelling at the bartender and the one union waitress serving in the adjacent room, who, although we'd requested her, had just been "cut" (sent home early for lack of work in restaurant parlance).

“Come here when I call your name! Do you want me to write you up?!” the manager growled.

He told us it was against policy to serve food at the bar. Which seemed odd, one of the group mentioned, as the last time she was there she was told the only place she could order food was at the bar.

Heated discussion but no fisticuffs ensued. “Customers don’t tell us how to do our business,” the manager kept saying.

I was an interested but not involved party to the flurry of tweeting, recording, and filming going on throughout this encounter. Meanwhile, customers in the dining room watched or tried to avoid watching, looking miserable and uncomfortable.

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Guess The Location


Jill and I have been traveling.  Who can tell me what and where...

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Friday Morning Music - The French Connection

Dead People, Friday Morning Music, James Morrison, The Doors, People Are Strange

Barely a couple of weeks ago Jill and I hopped on the Paris #69 bus (just down the block from our hotel outside of the Place des Vosges) and traveled to the end of the line – to Père Lachaise Cemetery – the largest graveyard in Paris. 

My regular readers already know I like nothing better than a good graveyard.

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Take Me Hunting

Door County Hunting, Labrador Retrievers

I cannot recall if it was an email or a regular mailing that featured a blonde Lab that I noticed last week.  It had a nifty catchphrase along with a good-looking dog so it caught my attention.  Not that I needed much encouragement as I had already gone online to purchase my small game license in anticipation of the fall ritual of chasing roosters in Spink County, SD.  Nevertheless, following a photo contest and everything on Facebook, South Dakota Tourism rightly nailed it with their Take Me Hunting campaign. 

Sunday morning my two Labs were giving me the hairy eyeball.  To be fair - on Saturday we'd been out hunting and bagged a ringneck before I retired to a deer stand with my bow.  Complicating the situation the shotgun had been left conspicuously propped on the bench at the back door.  A handful of shells along with some dog kibble were in the pockets of my field jacket on the hook.  And now the pooches were giving me the look.  The 'take me hunting' look.

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Community Theater in Wauwatosa

Local Performances

My husband and I have seen some good local community theater over the last few years - mostly due to knowing an actor or two in the shows. Waukesha Civic Theatre, Menomonee Falls Players, and just this past weekend the Hartford Players.

As we were driving back home from a delightful performance of To Kill a Mockingbird in Hartford, we got into a discussion about Wauwatosa community theater. Is there a local theater group in Tosa? Is there a playhouse that we don't know about? Could we have both lived in Wauwatosa for decades and not known the answers to these questions?

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How to Dry Herbs

food preservation, drying herbs, seed saving, basil

I admit I'm much better at growing food than I am at preserving it. My small urban lot only produces so much in the way of tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots. Most years, I manage to cook everything I've grown for our family of five before it goes bad. So I have yet to figure out canning. 

That said, I do preserve some of the herbs that grow on my tiny "farm." I grow a lot of them – everything from basil to tarragon and lovage – and while I don't save all my herbs when the cold winds blow in, I do like to preserve the things I may use in the winter. 

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Friday Morning Music

Friday Morning Music, The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Start your weekend with a very awesome a capella version of this classic.

Stay for the ending. 

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Babies, buildings, and government size: Confused in the pursuit of happiness

Escheweiler Buildings, Wauwatosa Common Council, Happiness, Forest Exploration Center

The other day my daughter, her dear friend, and the dear friend’s adorable baby, my pretend grandbaby, were in the kitchen talking and laughing. Buddha Baby grew restless so I handed him a whisk and metal bowl. Happy beyond expectation, he played for a very long time. No colorful expensive plastic products were involved, and I thought about all the time, energy, and money I had spent as a young mother obtaining stuff I believed would make my babies smarter and happier.

 Do you know what makes you happy? Chances are you think you do, but you don’t. The same is true of most of us, according to a growing body of fascinating research that says what we think we know about our own happiness is usually wrong. Researchers from the University of Chicago Center for Decision Research say we get stuck because we exaggerate the good features of what we prefer (or are being sold) and exaggerate the bad features of what we don’t prefer (or have already decided not to buy). We remember the worst of an event disproportionately. And we rely on beliefs that just aren’t true. You can read more about it  here: 

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Roadside Curiosities, Taxation Without Representation, Travel

An official-looking envelope from the République Française arrived in the post the other day.  The return address even emphasized that famous part about  - Liberté, égalité, fraternité


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